How I found sisterhood in a sweat lodge

 

 

Heating stones for ‘sweat bath’ in Supa. Circa 1924. Grand Canyon National Park Museum Collection

It’s a work day and after blowing off a meeting, I drive out of town where lantana rambles on the road’s edge. The first sign of smoke comes from a fire started at daybreak on a flat terrace. I stop by a Balinese-esque building and walk through wooden doors, stepping into another world.

Though it’s Thursday, a group of women have managed to claw some precious time to come together for a “sweat.” My first, and I’m feeling intrigued with a mixture of reverence and rebellion about a daytime meeting when I could be taking care of other duties.

We change into sarongs, the only clothing we will be wearing for the next few hours. I look around at the other women—a yoga teacher from the city, and a Spanish mum of three young kids down from the coast “who’s not sure why she’s come, but she has,” and other faces I’ve met before briefly. We sit and gather in a comforting circle.

Laurel, our Shamanic facilitator opens the ceremony with her flute. We each pick up an instrument laid out on the floor and begin to drum a beat. A tune forms quickly, energetic and curious.

After a light safety induction, we walk in silence toward a domed structure lined with thick canvas. Think of an igloo with a flat top, willow saplings holding up its walls. We pick mugwort and set intentions for what we wish to get clarity on during our sweat.

Native American cultures have used sweat lodges as a sacred ceremony for purification, however, there is evidence of other indigenous cultures practising similar rituals. It symbolises a kind of birth, death, and rebirth, much like a snake shedding its skin.

I crawl through the small opening, the sand surprisingly cool under my palms. The air is stale and so different from the vibrant wind whipping the tarpaulin outside. In single file, I find my place opposite the door. Our firekeeper, a practical lady called Luna brings the hot rocks known as the Stone People and places them into the pit. Sweetgrass incense sizzles when thrown on top. The four directions are noted. I realise I am due north, the place of moving into and through difficulty. I puff out my chest trying for courage and endurance as I feel stirrings of nausea.

It is very dark, and I can’t see anyone next to me. We take turns acknowledging ancestors and sharing sorrows. I am unsure who is speaking, nor remembering what is said—it is like a long trail of emu footprints across a desert. My back screams from lack of yogic fitness or just plain revolt. I feel the pull to lie down and surrender. Blackish sand marks my forehead as I curl up like I’m inside my mother again.

We welcome the last round of rocks mottled black and red as the older rocks cool dark. Drinking water is shared around the circle. I slurp hungrily out of my hands; forgetting to wash the sand off, I get grit in my mouth. I don’t care, I’m saved by its sweet relief. Gratitude rushes over me—I have never been this thirsty and lucky.

Photo credit: Valerie Everett

As the drum beats slow, Laurel begins to walk us safely home. We all lay together on the sand. I feel a hand reach for mine that awakens vague alarm, but I don’t pull away. Firmly our fingers close around each other and love washes over me. We stay like this until the end of the ceremony when the daylight pierces us from the door.

Michelle, the yoga teacher, swore she heard the prompt to hold hands inside the lodge though no one else did. But by reaching out her hand, the Spanish mum uncertain about being touched after a rocky start to life, felt her heart burst out of her chest. I also felt touched deeply by sisterhood and how we are never alone, no matter how hard it can get.

A Lakotan saying, “Mitakuye Oyasin,” which is loosely translated as “all my relations,” meaning all plants, animals, minerals, and humans are interconnected. This philosophy sits snug with me as I emerge feeling lighter, clearer and profoundly quieter.

As I retreat back into my routine, I feel more gratitude for my sparky family and thankful for a clean shower and a yummy salad. I may not see Michelle or my other sisters again though I hope I do,  I’m left feeling connected and realise by reaching out to others we can lessen any feelings we may have of loneliness or isolation.

This piece was featured on Elephant Journal

Moving the Family to Cambodia

140 kgWe commonly get asked, why Cambodia, and how can you do it? So i’ll answer these curlies in this post.

Family Selfie at the Airport

Family Selfie at the Airport

 

I stumbled upon a blog about an American family who moved to Mexico  (www.revolutionfromhome.com)
at the beginning of their journey, and it was a source of encouragement and insight into how it is possible, even with parasitic bouts and tired, resistant children, and the joys and growth all involved shared. It was possible with kids!

But of course, the seed was planted a lot longer ago..

It started with a conversation… Tim and I had about living overseas with kids. I’d always been fond of the idea, especially as I’d spent a year living in Beijing as 21 year old. I arrived green, as part of an Australian government initiative that sends young Aussies across Asia-Pacific to immerse themselves in local culture, share some Australisms and impart their professional knowledge. What a 21 year old thinks they know professionally and what they do, is oceans apart. I had much free time that involved cruising the Foreign Students College making friends with folk from all parts of the globe. Many students were from Russia (pop across a big long border) and Columbia (I met one wealthy kid whose parents realised that it was safer getting educated in China rather than hijacked for ransom in their own town). Even though I had an arsenal of contacts in this strange new world if I needed them, it was still like landing on the moon. It was 2001, and few local Chinese spoke English. I was soon lured into local Primary schools to teach conversational English. Visions of delivering my final uni thesis presentation in broken stutters still fresh in my mind. I think the only thing I achieved in these classes was convincing one 6 year old kid who had chosen the English name of Tomato, that it was a winner as it never ceased to have me in fits of giggles.

Maybe the coconut never falls far from the palm. Once I was out of nest, the poop not even dry, my mum set off on an intrepid backpacker adventure even though she was nearing fifty, from Kathmandu to London inside an old Bedford truck. Once there, she stayed eights years, doing itinerant work between gathering new stamps in her passport and regular visits to her Bedouin lover in Jordan.

And so after years of watering the idea from our Umina suburbian backyard with its dog and two babies later, my dearest Tim decided,

Ok, I’d give it a crack

Green light go, we rented our beach shack to a beautiful young family, escaping city living with dreams of having a pooch and more chicks in their brood.

Patrick Swayze in our Umina Yard

We were lucky to know of a reputable NGO, a young team of dedicated individuals trying to implement international best practice in social welfare. Supporting over 150 students, they provide income support, training, health care and education to children and their families. Importantly, they are trying to keep the family unit strong and together. Also, they understand intrinsically the role that Westerners should play in skills sharing and ultimately handing over management to the Khmers. We are self funded volunteers and loving the nature of this work. We were able to offer our skills, as artist, all-round handy man, yoga devotee and educator. I have also been approached by local expats to run yoga classes, so a little in the can will help.

One of Tim's sculptures, recycled steel

One of Tim’s sculptures, recycled steel

There is always a lot of conjecture over children’s education. As the next wave of knock kneed kids reach the playground, more theories pop up about how kids learn, how they can learn better, faster, quicker, even though the brain still remains somewhat of a black box. Personally, I was shaped strongly by my education, and my adult years have been somewhat a period of unschooling. So after recognising the whole disruption to our Grade 1 son’s schooling the move would cause, we decided it was still valuable. If anything, we were heartened by this ideal that maybe he would actually gain more through life experience rather than sight words.

That being said, I came armed with helpful hints from his teachers, and again, idealistic visions of being a cool grammar teacher (yup I am a foxy moron). It hasn’t quite gone to plan. We probably average 10 minutes a day, with Quinn honing his debating skills on why he can’t sit down, I try for calm without resorting to bribery and fail on both counts. If there are jobs going for illiterate lawyers, he’s sure to do well.

Quinn in legal attire

So we made it, fumbling our way through and grateful to have this opportunity. We are going to milk it and give it a real hard shake!